Drug Use in La Colonia Is Targeted : Oxnard: Police, schools and probation officers are all involved in the program intended to help teen-agers.
Teen-agers with substance-abuse problems in Oxnard’s La Colonia neighborhood are being targeted by a broad intervention program that aims to provide counseling to keep them off drugs and out of jail.
The program, launched this week with $363,500 in federal grants, is one of five pilot projects in the state that will focus on low-income neighborhoods blighted by drug use and drug-related crime, a state official said. The cities of Long Beach, Sacramento, Stockton and Roseville were also chosen for the program.
Oxnard’s program will operate as a joint effort among police, school officials and the Ventura County Probation Department, said Detective Gino Rodriguez, the program’s coordinator. The goal is to funnel up to 400 youths into various substance abuse and counseling programs run by the Oxnard Union High School District or the Probation Department during the next 18 months, he said.
“The emphasis here is intervention, not slamming a couple of kids into jail,” Rodriguez said.
By working together, the agencies hope to speed up the time it takes for a juvenile to meet with a probation officer after being cited by police on a drug or alcohol offense. It now takes up to two months for that to happen, but under the grant program police hope to have youths meet with a juvenile probation officer within three days, said Jose Luis Morales, the juvenile probation officer assigned to the program full time.
Under the program, Oxnard police said they will also take a more stringent attitude toward juveniles caught in La Colonia with alcohol or small amounts of drugs.
Detective Bob Camarillo, one of two narcotics detectives assigned to the program, has said previously that many officers would have simply made minors pour out beer or destroy a small quantity of drugs because the offenses carried light punishments and officers were busy with other calls.
Now, however, officers will be encouraged to issue citations to force youths between 14 and 18 to become involved in the program, he said. Parents of the teen-agers will be notified of the citation through a phone call, a letter or a visit from a patrol officer.
Also, Camarillo and another narcotics detective will conduct undercover surveillance around schools, stores suspected of selling liquor to juveniles or areas known for drug sales involving teen-agers.
Some of the grant money will go toward community improvement, such as better street lighting, graffiti removal and trash pickup, police said.
Once youths are referred to the program and meet with a probation officer, they will be required to attend counseling, Morales said. If they do not attend the counseling or are cited again, their case will be referred to the district attorney’s office for prosecution.
“The main goal is to try to intervene” before problems develop, Morales said. “I think in the long run we’re going to be able to really divert a lot of people from drug abuse.”
But Carlos Aguilera, president of La Colonia Neighborhood Council, criticized the program’s approach, saying it will create more legal problems for teen-agers who already have addictions and other problems.
“If the kids are already not responding to citations or appearances in court, what makes them think this will be any better?” he asked. “It just adds another factor that the justice system can use against these kids.”
A better use for the grant money, he suggested, would be to build a permanent drug-treatment center in La Colonia.
“These kids do not need surveillance. What they need is treatment,” he said.
Daisy Tatum, interim principal at Frontier High continuation school, defended the program, called Operation Revitalization Grant, saying she believes it will help some teen-agers who otherwise would not attend counseling.
“Hopefully, if everybody does their part, no child will fall through the cracks,” she said.
Tatum said a key to the program’s success will be the counselors who work with the targeted teen-agers. “It’s got to be somebody they can feel real comfortable with,” she said.
Officials at Channel Islands, Oxnard, Rio Mesa and Frontier high schools, along with Fremont Junior High, are meeting with police and Morales this week to discuss the program. Youths from La Colonia attend all of those schools.
Aguilera also criticized the program for focusing on La Colonia. “Those same problems they’re talking about exist in other places in the city,” he said.
But Rodriguez said 57% of the juveniles cited or referred to probation for alcohol and drug citations came from La Colonia, a predominantly Latino neighborhood. Police also chose the area because of its low-income level and its high concentration of students in junior high and high school.
Eventually, he said, police hope to expand the program to other neighborhoods in Oxnard.